The Dutch Government is in talks with three candidate shipyards about the replacement of the Walrus class submarines. This process has so far not delivered the required result and will lead to ‘a substantial adjustment of the current planning’, says Dutch Minister of Defence Henk Kamp. This means that awarding the contract at the end of 2022 is no longer feasible and that the existing submarines will probably stay in operation beyond 2031.

The Dutch submarine replacement programme is currently in the second or so-called dialogue phase. The first face was the preparatory phase and the third and final face involves the contract award. In the dialogue phase, the Government is in talks with three shipyards: Swedish Saab-Kockums together with Damen Shipyards, French Naval Group together with Royal IHC and German ThyssenKrupp.

Kamp says in a letter to Parliament that the first round of dialogue, which took place from 8 February to 17 June, has provided less information and depth than previously estimated. He writes: ‘The three candidate yards have indicated that the depth envisaged by the Ministry of Defence goes beyond what they are used to in the initial phase of a dialogue and that more time is needed for the yards to provide the desired information.’

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At the same time, Defence has chosen to ask for the optimal needs in this round, without indicating which needs are deemed indispensable. As a result Kamp says the candidate shipyards have not yet been able to optimise their design for the new submarine within the given (financial) frameworks. The Ministry of Defence also needed more time to analyse the information provided by the shipyards properly.

No contract award in 2022

Together, the result is that the second round of dialogue, which was to start in September 2021, has been postponed to December.

Kamp: ‘This will allow the draft designs of the candidate yards to be further validated and the feasibility of the requirements package to be tested. In addition, based on the information received from the candidate shipyards during the first dialogue round, it must be concluded that it is no longer realistic to assume that the previously announced contract signing will take place at the end of 2022, that the submarine capacity will be replaced as of 2028 and that the Walrus class will be phased out by the end of 2031 at the latest. In addition to the above-mentioned later implementation of the second dialogue round, this is because a longer period is needed between signing the contract and getting the first two new submarines fully operational.’

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Kamp adds that the most important causes and implications are still being mapped out and Dutch Parliament will be informed further once these are clear. Additionally, research will be carried out into what caused the time overruns in hopes of preventing this in future replacement programmes and Defence will consider how to optimally deploy available knowledge and personnel to ensure the rest of the project runs more smoothly.

Extending lifetime of the Walrus class beyond 2031

The delay means the Royal Netherlands Navy will have to keep on operating the Walrus class beyond 2031. Of course this will have implications for maintenance and upgrades that will be needed to keep these submarines available beyond that time.

‘In the longer term, it is important that the inflow of new submarines and the phasing out of the current Walrus class are organised in such a way that the national and NATO deployment objectives can be met,’ concludes Kamp. ‘For an integrated risk assessment and planning, insight is needed into the financial and operational risks of continuing to operate the Walrus class submarines in the years after 2031. The Ministry of Defence has set up a working group for this with representatives of the user, maintenance companies and the norm-setter of the submarines.’

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